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Medical negligence lawyer reacts to new statistics on 'never events'

NHS England data shows that over 1000 patients have suffered 'never events' in the last four years

Posted on 18 February 2016

Medical negligence solicitor Stephen Jones is shocked by an analysis of recent data published by NHS England which has revealed that more than 1,100 patients have suffered from so called 'never events' within the NHS over the past four years.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, has stated that, “It is a disgrace that such supposed ‘never’ incidents are still so prevalent” and has highlighted that there is a clearly a lack of learning within the NHS in relation to these wholly avoidable events.

What is a ‘“never event’”?

Never events are serious and preventable patient safety incidents that should never occur in medical practice. They cover a range of medical incidents such as wrong site surgery; retained foreign objects following operations; and providing wrong implants/prosthetic body parts to patients.

Hospital Trusts are required to monitor the occurrence of never events within the services they commission and publicly report them on an annual basis. In principle, they should never occur as they are absolutely avoidable.

The NHS commissioned a taskforce in 2013 which led to a new set of national standards being published last year to support medical staff in preventing these careless mistakes.

Despite this, there does not appear to be a reduction in the number of such events in recent years.

An analysis of data published by NHS England shows there were 254 never events from April 2015 to the end of December 2015, and the data reveals some horrifying stories about affected patients.

This includes a woman having her fallopian tubes removed instead of her appendix; diabetic patients not being given insulin and a man who had a testicle removed, instead of just the cyst on it.

Over the past four years, more than 400 people have also suffered due to wrong site surgery, while more than 420 people have had foreign objects left inside them after operations - including gauzes, swabs, drill guides, scalpel blades and needles.

Other patients have suffered when feeding tubes which are meant to be fed into their stomach have been put into their lung instead – this mistake can prove to be fatal.

In 2014/15 Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust reported the highest number of never events, with nine recorded in total.

What can be done?

The NHS has stated that it is committed to preventing such events happening in the future.

The guidance that the NHS publishes needs not only to be comprehensive, but there need to be provisions put in place to ensure that it is complied with.

An NHS England spokeswoman said: "One never event is too many and we mustn't underestimate the effect on the patients concerned. However, there are 4.6 million hospital admissions that lead to surgical care each year and, despite stringent measures put in place, on rare occasions these incidents do occur.”

When a patient attends for medical treatment, they are placing their trust and confidence in the medical professional providing that treatment. It is shocking that such events continue to happen, despite them being, by their very nature, avoidable. Even when the physical complications of a never event are less serious, the psychological consequences when a patient has been let down so badly can be significant.

Manchester based medical negligence solicitor Stephen Jones said:

“The figures released today highlight the need to focus on preventing such incidents. ‘Never events’ should be just that.”